Officials warn of ‘race’ against Delta variant as US cases surge

White House weighs renewed mask mandates, distancing as deaths from COVID-19 rise in some US states and globally.

A woman in New York City wears a mask, as cases of the infectious Delta variant of coronavirus disease continue to rise in the US [Brendan McDermid/Reuters]

New COVID-19 cases are surging in parts of the United States and globally where vaccination rates are low as the highly infectious Delta variant spreads rapidly, prompting new warnings from US government officials.

“As long as this virus is out there anywhere, replicating, we’re going to see more variants, and those variants are going to come back and bite us as we’re already experiencing with Delta,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a television interview on Friday.

“As we are pursuing every effort to get every American vaccinated, we are also engaged in the world,” Blinken, who will travel to India next week where he will discuss expanding vaccine production, told the MSNBC news outlet.

The US has distributed 60 million vaccine doses to other nations in the past month and is planning to buy 500 million doses “to make sure we are doing everything we can to win this race against variants”, Blinken said.

The Secretary of State’s warning comes as local communities in the US are starting to see deadly surges of COVID-19 cases from the Delta variant that are infecting more young people and even affecting people who have been vaccinated. Israel announced on July 22 it was renewing coronavirus restrictions because of the Delta variant.

The Delta variant was first detected in India and has acquired the spike protein mutation, called K417N, which is also found in the Beta variant first identified in South Africa.

“The Delta variant is more aggressive and much more transmissible than previously circulating strains,” Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters at a White House briefing on July 22.

“It is one of the most infectious respiratory viruses we know of, and that I have seen in my 20-year career,” Walensky said, urging Americans who have not been vaccinated to get the jab.

The US has vaccinated 162 million people and 97 percent of new COVID-19 hospitalisations and deaths are among the unvaccinated, Jeffrey Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator said.

“It is clear, that we’re experiencing what many other countries are experiencing – increased case counts driven by the more transmissible Delta variant,” Zients told reporters at the White House.

Concerns the spread of the Delta variant will slow the US economic recovery prompted a sell-off on Wall Street for the first time since mid-2020 with the Dow Jones Industrial Average sinking 726 points, or 2.1 percent, on July 19.

Alarms are sounding in the United States about the spreading Delta variant of the coronavirus as a woman wearing a mask passes by a COVID-19 mobile testing van in New York City on July 22 [Brendan McDermid/Reuters]

In the US Congress, Louisiana Representative Steve Scalise, the No 2 Republican in the House of Representatives, got a first dose of the vaccine after resisting for months.

“With the Delta variant becoming a lot more aggressive and seeing another spike, it was a good time to do it,” Scalise told the New Orleans Times-Picayune news outlet.

Raising more alarms in official Washington, DC, two aides to President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who had previously been fully vaccinated became infected with COVID-19.

Hospitals in hot spots around the US are reaching their capacity limits as cases of COVID-19 continue to surge.

Summer camps across Texas have closed and sent children home as the Delta variant spreads.

In Galveston, Texas, more than 150 cases of COVID-19 were tied to an outbreak in early July at a church-affiliated youth camp, health officials told local media. Of those, 20 cases were breakthrough cases, meaning the infected individuals had been vaccinated.

In Alabama, a state where vaccination rates are among the lowest in the US, Governor Kay Ivey lashed out at people who refuse to get vaccinated, according to local news outlets.

Hospitalisations have surged 216 percent in Alabama since July 1, according to CDC data.

“Folks are supposed to have common sense,” said Ivey, a Republican who has refused to mandate masks. “It’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It’s the unvaccinated that are letting us down.”

Cases rise in Europe

Cases of COVID-19 have increased in Sweden’s main cities with the more contagious Delta emerging as the dominant variant in Europe, health authorities said on Friday, though they added infection levels nationally remained low, Reuters news service reported.

Sweden reported 1,855 new cases of COVID-19 last week, a 24 percent increase compared with the previous week. About a quarter of new cases were linked to travel abroad, the health authority said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies